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What is your STEM degree really worth?

Fed Chair Janet Yellen gives commencement NYU speech at Yankee Stadium
Fed Chair Janet Yellen gives commencement NYU speech at Yankee Stadium
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

May's graceful exit carried with it the graduations of every university across the country. Each student proudly striding across their respective school’s stage, hearts bursting with the pride of accomplishment in unison with spasmodic abdominal convulsions from thoughts of the gargantuan debts they now carry.

These are commonly accepted cycles; chasing white rabbit dreams of luxury down a hole of indebtedness futilely seeking sufficiently remunerative positions with which to repay them. We're all mad here. Mad enough to believe implicitly that the Bureau of Labor Statistics job creation report should be the educational attainment metric for graduates. Mad enough to advise our students on which curriculum to follow based on their quantifiable earnings potential at the end.

CNBC ran a segment recently on what degrees pay the most over the course of a career. Any publication that seeks to attract readership this month will do the same, and so the cycle continues: white rabbits dashing and the finance industry grinning that Cheshire Cat grin as students are compartmentalized into those who will repay their debt and those who will be controlled by it. They leverage media machinery in this process: "Follow STEM careers, pay off your school loans."

But this thinking is flawed, and harkens back to a bygone era when we tracked students mainly by perceived instead of actual ability. Students found themselves unwittingly corralled into disparate striations because of African American heritage, Limited English Proficiency, and socio-economic background. We see the same thing now, with STEM fields over-populated by monochromatic, mainly (though not entirely) singular gender individuals. The situation is so dire that Google published a clarion call to society at large: send us more diverse applicants to the talent pool please.

At issue is this - our desires, our capacity for mobility, our health, our food availability are being managed. All of this easily reported quantifiability produces the plethora of data in which our lives presently swim. Having us focus ever more stringently on remuneration producing pursuits for decreasing wages while ticking boxes on some analyst's survey [Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but no Pocket? How dare you! Stop-and-Shop or Shop Rite?] deepens our data packet. We know how much your life is worth because - on average, - we know how much you cost and spend.

Our solutions base purposefully shrank in lock step with curricular limitations, funneling us towards solutions that are premeditated to cost exorbitant sums because creativity and critical thinking - the basis for invention of creative solutions - are no longer cultivated in the current educational paradigm.

How best to break this cycle of automonoteneity? What choice do we have?

Luckily, the past several years provided us a uniquely viable solution: Survivability. We turned the planet against ourselves, how now do we aim to survive? In a very literal sense, nearly every river is poisoned, and so few fish remain to be caught, now do we finally realize: we cannot eat money.

To that end, the survivability quotient measures values in terms of species perpetuation. It is infinitely more long term than the value of money for costs and returns. Does educating a populace in its entirety result in greater unification and societal strength? Yes. What is the survivability quotient if everyone is capacitated and constantly working on interesting, forward-thinking, creative solutions for everyone else? Highest possible rating: 1.

Survivability quotient of a fossil fuel extraction process that fouls soil, water, air, strips the environment bare, increases storm producing conditions, and results in a fuel that compounds all of the above? Value of absolute 0. Everything else is a gradation in between with appropriation of resources dependent upon the quotient's value.

Nuclear reactor sitting on a fault line in Virginia near the region where they are simultaneously mining for coal? Survivability quotient extremely low. Urban farming solutions that inherently reduce the breadth of food deserts and improve local students' ability to achieve at high levels in school? Survivability quotient moderately high. Include community care centers in the equation, raise the value.

Of course, the globally interculturated roulette game of stock markets will preemptively convulse at the concept of leaving behind calculations based on dollars. However, Occam's razor dictates that at this stage of our evolution, we must. Fret not, all of the physics, econometrics, and mathematics PhDs currently contracted by NYSE, AMEX, the Nikkei, and Eurozone will all still have jobs in the end. Their evaluative process will be different, but, eh, that happens.

Market solutions no longer resolve our disaster laden global dilemmas. Indeed, they are how we got into this situation in the first place.

So, what is that STEM degree worth?

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